Scott Farrell Comments:
In the conclusion of his article, Dr. Moore provides an insightful examination of the value of gender roles in literature and society. He also looks at how the Code of Chivalry approaches masculine and feminine roles with dignity and respect in order to celebrate the essential nature of men and women in modern culture.
The War for Chivalry
At this point in the discussion, the teacher should drive home his point. The women are still silently sympathetic to the plight of women in the Middle Ages and perhaps realize that modern manners are reverting to early medieval conditions. The men are wishing they could become knights. The teacher should ask the men, “In the course of your education have you ever been taught what it means to be a man?”
The question will floor them. Immediately they sense the need for such an ethical education and its total absence in the schools, the culture and too often in the home.
The fact of the matter is that young males today do not have the slightest idea of what it means to be men. And yet the desire of young men to be something more than irresponsible boys or even “nice persons” remains as strong as ever, despite the efforts of radical feminists, androgynists, and hyper-egalitarians. The evidence comes from a most unlikely source. Christina Hoff Sommers in The War Against Boys aptly draws our attention to a wonderful collection of essays called Between Mothers and Sons. The authors are left-leaning, pacifistic, feminist, and very much children of the sixties. Yet these mothers discover in their sons something they did not inculcate: the male nature.
One such mother, Janet Burroway, describes how she nervously came to terms with her son’s adventures in the military, conservative political ideas and fascination with weaponry. She saw the sewing lessons she gave to her son in hopes of turning out a little feminist “put to use on cartridge belts and camouflage.”
In short, even many of the feminist mothers of today are finding themselves in the position of Perceval’s mother who had never let her son see a knight since “if the knights told him of their way of life he would wish to be one also.” Yet on first seeing knights pass through the forest, Perceval knew he must become one. When his mother realized “her caresses availed no longer to keep him” she supported Perceval in his decision:
“Fair son, I wish to teach you a lesson which you will do well to hear, and if it pleases you to remember it, great profit can come to you. You will soon become a knight, my son, if it please God, and I approve it. If, near or far, you find a lady who needs help, or a maiden in distress, do not withhold your aid if they ask for it; for in this all honor lies. He who does not yield honor to ladies, loses his own honor. Serve ladies and maidens, and you will receive honor everywhere. If you ask a favor of any, avoid offending her and do nothing to displease her. He who wins a kiss from a maiden receives much; if she permits you to kiss her, I forbid you to take more if, for my sake, you are willing to forego it. . . . Fair son, speak with noble men and go with them; a noble man never gives bad counsel to those who frequent his company. Above everything I beseech you to enter church and minster and pray Our Lord to give you honor in this world and grant you so to act that you may come to a good end.”
Perceval’s mother learned that she could not deny her son’s nature. The attempts to deny the male nature today have proven harmful both to men and women. For the history of chivalry has taught us that the young male can become gentle, provided that he is allowed to do so on his own terms, provided that gentleness does not reflect pusillanimity but allies itself with strength and honor.
Once the male students realize that what is at stake in this discussion is nothing less than their own manhood, and once the females begin to see what men could become, this distant epoch from the past will become a source of living instruction. The moral teacher must throw down the gauntlet.
Currently, there is a great cultural battle being waged on every street corner, and in every school, and in every family in this country. It is the battle for common decency. On many fronts, the battle is being lost, but the tide has perhaps turned. The fact that the children of the ’60s generation could even be interested in a theme like chivalry is a great sign of hope. But more than being interested, they must act upon the moral principles of their nature. Just as Churchill said that World War II would be won by the unknown soldier, so the battle for common decency will not be won by one great thinker or statesman or teacher. It will be won by millions of ordinary men and women doing their duties as ordinary men and women.
The return to chivalry requires that every young man exercise his courage in becoming a gentleman and that every young woman exercise her modesty in becoming a lady.
© 2004 Dr. Terrence Moore
About the author: Terrence Moore is an Adjunct Fellow of the Ashbrook Center and Principal of Ridgeview Classical Schools in Fort Collins, Colorado. “A Return to Chivalry?” originally appeared on The Ashbrook Center website, and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.